Saturday, February 01, 2014

Whom None Can Bribe, and None Can Overawe

Any Poet At Any Time
by Alfred Austin

Time, thou supreme inexorable Judge,
Whom none can bribe, and none can overawe,
Who unto party rancour, private grudge,
Calmly opposeth equitable law,
Before whom advocacy vainly strives
To make the better cause to seem the worse,
To thy Tribunal, when our jangling lives
Are husht, I leave the verdict on my verse.
Irrevocably then wilt thou proclaim
What should have been, what now must ever be,
If in oblivion perish should my name,
Or shine aloft in mighty company.
I to my kind proffering of my poor best,
Remit to Time's arbitrament the rest.

Alfred Austin had the unenviable task of being a merely ordinary poet following Tennyson as Poet Laureate, which was made worse by the fact that he was suspected of getting it for political reasons, and probably did. He also tended to write in old-fashioned and unpopular styles. When he was appointed, he had the instant hate of his peers for being undeserving, and his reputation has never recovered from it.

In reality, he is a competent poet, particularly good with natural description. His poetry consistently reads well aloud, which is one test of poetic competence, and his strange reputation as both pompous and pedestrian arises from the conversational quality of his poetry -- he has no soaring flights of prettiness, just surges of excitement, complicated by an English irony. It is a common fault of poetic criticism to label every walking poet plodding and everyone less than high genius incompetent; such bombastic court flattery results in many an injustice to the common craftsman.

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